Group 1: Franz Tost (AlphaTauri), Guenther Steiner (Haas) and James Vowles (Williams)
Guenther, how was the break? Busy with driver contracts or was that already sorted before you went on holiday?
Guenther Steiner: Break was good, as normal too short, for all of us but no, the driver contracts, they were sorted before. I mean, it was... obviously when we got back, we got them signed and all the legal stuff done, but that was not a difficult bit of work, you know? There's a lot more things to do which are more difficult than signing the drivers.
Tell us a little more about Nico and Kevin. What makes them such a good pairing?
GS: I think we are, with the drivers, in a good place at the moment. And I always said, after our bad seasons, we need to build-up again. And I think we have got two solid drivers. Obviously Nico, we never worked with him before, but he fitted in very well with the team. He's an asset to the team, like Kevin, and it was a very easy decision, what we are going to be doing. They both fit in, they just like what they are doing. Nico is happy to be back in F1. They are helping us to develop the team again, which was always the aim: to have two experienced drivers, just to keep on building the team. Because at the moment, our weakest part is the car. We need to have a better car and we are working on it, and they are actively involved in that, and they enjoy it. I don't have to ask them for their input, they really want to know what's going on and they both are confident that we can get it sorted out, that we are getting back where we want to be. So, I think the relationship on a personal level is good with both of them, so on the driver-side it's all good. A lot of other things to do.
When you were planning for 2024, was anyone else in the reckoning, or was it always going to be Hulkenberg and Magnussen?
GS: No, the aim was to keep them for stability. Once we saw, when Nico came back after three races, we knew that he was back at his best, so I never had any talks with anybody else.
And would you say this is the strongest driver-pairing Haas has ever had?
GS: You can never say that because the circumstances change. You don't have the same car, you're not having the same opponents, so it's difficult to say, but we are having a very strong one and for sure maybe it's as good as we had before or even better.
Now, you've said the biggest issue is the car, not the drivers. Let's talk a little bit about the car now and what your goals are for the rest of this season. You're tied on 11 points with Williams. Are you confident that you can beat Williams come season's end?
GS: No, I'm not confident. They are doing very well. At the moment we are tied on points but they're in front of us. Our aim is to do the best job possible with what we have got every weekend. To get the best out of it. And I think we, most of the time, have achieved it. We just need to get our pace better. We are working very hard and hopefully we can get to a stage in this season that we put a big upgrade on that will give us the direction for next season. That is the aim for us, that we understand where we need to go for next season. It's no point to do something, going in a direction and then waiting to find out until Bahrain - because then it's again too late. So, I think that is one of the aims of doing it now. Obviously time is now an issue because there are 10 races left and only four months in the calendar year - or three months of racing, not even four months - so, we are trying to do our best, and everybody is working very hard in Italy on this. Everybody is on it, we need to fix this and is positive about it. Obviously now we need to get it sorted. But even if we don't achieve what we want to achieve, I think we make a step towards what we want to be in the future. Even if the result is not immediately a positive one, at least we know what is possible and can build on that one. So, it's a lot of things going on at the moment. So, as I said, having the drivers' signing out of the way is a good thing and now we need to work on the next one, which is the car.
You talk about an upgrade. When can we expect to see that later this year?
GS: I don't make any promises, because otherwise, every time, every time, everybody asks me every race, 'when is the upgrade coming?' 'how is the upgrade doing?' So, we try to do it as soon as possible, hopefully in the middle of the 10 races left.
And final one from me. Thoughts on the remainder of this weekend at Zandvoort. What did you learn in FP1? How confident are you?
GS: The track improved a lot over the session. We did a lot of testing because we have got a new front wing here. And also we went out there and did different set-ups of the front wing, just to get data, so at the moment it looks good. I don't really have a feel for what is happening yet after FP1. It's always difficult after FP1 to forecast what will happen on the weekend, so nothing different here in Zandvoort than anywhere else.
Franz, Yuki's 10th place at Spa, just before the break, gave AlphaTauri a timely lift. With that in mind, what are your goals for the second half of this 2023 season?
Franz Tost: To score more points than one. Of course the target is that we are within the first 10, to score points. I think that the performance of the car improved in the last two or three races and there are coming some other upgrades and I hope together with Daniel and Yuki that we can continue to score points.
What are the limitations of this car?
FT: It's still a little bit the aerodynamics. We have too little downforce and therefore many times we overheat the tyres, especially the rear tyres, and I hope now we can find solutions to prevent this. The aero team is going in the right direction and I'm quite optimistic for the future.
Daniel Ricciardo has been with the team for a couple of races already. What has his feedback been about this car?
FT: His feedback is quite positive. He feels good in the car and, of course, there are some deficiencies, otherwise he would be in front - but I think that with this real valid feedback which we get from Daniel we can make further steps on the development side, because he is very experienced and he has already given us a lot of important information about the car behaviour and engineers are working on this now.
Tell us a little bit more about Daniel and the two races so far. How well has he done?
FT: I think he has done a very good job because we must not forget that he was out of the car for a long time and when he came back, he immediately felt quite familiar with the team, because he knew many people from the past and also, regarding the car, he is getting a better feeling now and already today, after the FP1, he gave us really good feedback and I think this will help us also for the next races.
And how is the dynamic between Yuki and Daniel different to the dynamic between Yuki and Nyck before?
FT: The dynamic is quite similar, because Yuki has a good relationship with Daniel, as well as he had with Nyck. And from this point of view, I must say we have a really good relationship between the drivers.
OK, what about Zandvoort this weekend? What can we expect from you guys?
FT: I expect one car in Q3 and the other car at the front part of Q2.
Which driver is going to do which?
FT: I don't care about this.
James, let's come to you now. The break offered everyone in Formula 1 a chance to reflect on the opening 12 races of the season. What conclusions did you draw? Because it has been quite a year for you so far?
James Vowles: I think the first conclusion I came to is that the team... I'm very proud of what the team has achieved. They've come from several years of really being punished and not achieving a terrible amount, and their heads are lifted high, they're responding to the direction of travel that we're going into and oddly, you can see the start of a cultural change as well, that's happening. A culture doesn't change overnight. It doesn't change even in six months. It's years' worth of work. But the facts are the team is ready to change. And that's one of the things I'm proud of them for. And I think, you know, there's points we've left on the table but for the most part, we've picked up every point that we could so far. Where we are, tied up with Haas, I think is a fantastic position, a position that we would have dreamed of before the season started. Where we go from here though, is this is the start of the journey and what I'm more excited by is the next few years rather than the last few months.
On a personal level, what lessons have you learned about Formula 1 as a team principal that you didn't know before?
JV: There's many. It would take this entire press conference for me to probably summarise them but I'd be disappointed if I'm not continuously learning through this journey, every single month, every single year and be disappointed if you didn't ask me that question in one year time, and I still didn't answer, 'I'm still learning every day'. The largest thing is this: you move from running small teams, even large teams, to an organisation, and they're very different requirements. There's not one single day where you're focused on the same thing. Typically you are in about 10 to 12 different meetings, each one of those on different subjects: it can be drivers, marketing, what's happening in Las Vegas, engineering, performance, aerodynamics. And it's exciting. It's interesting, it'll keep you on your toes the whole time. And I think that dynamic and the ability to have to cover-off so many subject areas so quickly was... nothing can really train you for it until you're in it.